What does stunting tell us?

Keywords: SEPE Factors, physical fitness, height in history, malnutrition


Stunting is commonly linked with undernutrition. Yet, already after World War I, German pediatricians questioned this link and stated that no association exists between nutrition and height. Recent analyses within different populations of Low- and middle-income countries with high rates of stunted children failed to support the assumption that stunted children have a low BMI and skinfold sickness as signs of severe caloric deficiency. So, stunting is not a synonym of malnutrition. Parental education level has a positive influence on body height in stunted populations, e.g., in India and in Indonesia. Socially disadvantaged children tend to be shorter and lighter than children from affluent families.

Humans are social mammals; they regulate growth similar to other social mammals. Also in humans, body height is strongly associated with the position within the social hierarchy, reflecting the personal and group-specific social, economic, political, and emotional environment. These non-nutritional impact factors on growth are summarized by the concept of SEPE (Social-Economic-Political-Emotional) factors. SEPE reflects on prestige, dominance-subordination, social identity, and ego motivation of individuals and social groups.


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How to Cite
Scheffler, C., & Hermanussen, M. (2023). What does stunting tell us?. Human Biology and Public Health, 3. https://doi.org/10.52905/hbph2022.3.36